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PORTSIDELABOR  December 2011, Week 2

PORTSIDELABOR December 2011, Week 2

Subject:

Anti-Union Law Squeezes Wisconsin Teachers

From:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Mon, 12 Dec 2011 06:43:23 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (202 lines)

Anti-Union Law Squeezes Wisconsin Teachers

BY EVAN ROHAR
DECEMBER 5, 2011
LABOR NOTES

http://labornotes.org/2011/11/anti-union-law-squeezes-wisconsin-teachers

Wisconsin teachers are feeling the pinch as the
consequences of Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union bill
set in. The campaign to recall Walker announced late
November it had 300,000 of the 540,000 signatures
needed by mid-January to force a vote.

Education budget cuts of $1.6 billion eliminated about
4,000 teaching and support positions statewide. The
union is reaching out to parents and grandparents to
stress the impact the layoffs will have on students—and
hopes to build on those relationships in its effort to
recall Walker and overturn the law.

Christina Brey, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin
Education Association Council (WEAC), noted that
elements of the law’s implementation, such as what
specifically constitutes collective bargaining, are yet
unclear. "The legislation was created that way—to keep
everything in chaos," she said. "Instability is
something that this administration has thrived on when
it comes to public workers."

Now many school districts are imposing new employee
handbooks on teachers in place of contracts,
unilaterally establishing more onerous work conditions.

Teachers in the Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin have
been organizing against a handbook that was implemented
without teacher input at the beginning of the school
year.

It includes provisions for a work day as long as 11
hours, elimination of preparation periods during the
day, and additional training after work without
compensation.

The school board claimed that soliciting teacher input
would amount to illegal collective bargaining, even
though other districts did so without state
interference.

Grievance procedures have turned into a "kangaroo
court" whose highest body is the school board, said
Ellen La Luzerne, a WEAC regional staffer for suburban
and rural districts south and west of Madison.

Five WEAC locals in the Milwaukee area, along with AFT
Local 212 and AFSCME, mobilized 200 members to the
back-to-school board meeting at which the New Berlin
handbook was adopted.

The union’s efforts were enough to beat back some of
the provisions, including demeaning skirt length
requirements and a cut in sick days by more than half.

Still, the new handbook eliminated a sick leave bank,
in which members pooled extra days to aid stricken
colleagues, such as those with cancer, who’d run out of
their own sick days. Staffer Steven Cupery said the
district is hurting people at "their greatest time of
need."

The school district called the teachers’ mobilization
"union bullying," and board members complained that the
union brought outsiders to the meeting.

Cupery said the district has "no problem with outsiders
and bullying when it’s the Tea Party."

He said right-wingers mobilized by a wealthy Milwaukee
talk radio host heckled teachers at the meeting,
interrupting them during public comment and pelting
them with pacifiers.


STILL WORTH IT

With dues checkoff gone, collective bargaining
outlawed, and unions decertified by default, the new
environment has forced WEAC to take an organizing-model
approach and get closer to its members.

The union is ratcheting up its activist base by holding
more meetings, producing newsletters more frequently,
pushing a union message through social networking, and
spending more time in one-on-one conversations with
members.

Still, keeping the union afloat without steady
financing is taking a toll. In anticipation of lost
revenue, 40 staffers got layoff notices in August.

Units with contract extensions that preserved dues
checkoff softened the blow, as did the hard work of
WEAC staff and members who signed members up for dues
collection. About half the layoff notices were
rescinded.


BEAT THE DEVIL

The union is striking back against Wisconsin’s
conservative movement, going after its paragon Scott
Walker in a recall effort that kicked off November 15.

After the uprising that brought 100,000 into the
streets last winter against Walker’s law, Wisconsin
unions tried to recall six Republican senators this
summer. They managed to defeat only two of the three
they needed to flip the senate.

But through its coalition work in the recalls, the
teachers union realized it could mobilize a broad base
of Wisconsinites, not just its own members, Brey said.
With the Walker recall, the union sees an advantage in
a statewide vote, too, rather than trying to win in
senate districts that tilted Republican.

The Walker recall will proceed without financial
backing from national unions, however, so WEAC will
rely on its energized membership to get friends,
family, and neighbors out to the polls. Recall
campaigners announced late November they had 300,000 of
the 540,000 signatures needed by mid-January to force a
vote.

Teacher unions are also using the struggle against the
handbooks as a rallying point to recertify the union.

Cupery says his union faces a hostile management
campaign. Administrators are meeting one on one with
employees, telling them the union is an outside agent
and has no place in a cooperative workplace.

Firing back, the union is asking members if they are
better off than they were a year ago. The answer seems
to be a resounding "no."

"Many of our best teachers plan on leaving the district
or leaving education altogether," wrote Diane Lazewski,
New Berlin’s teacher union leader, in an email. "Morale
is so low it can’t help but affect the entire
atmosphere. Teachers are shutting down."


RECERTIFY

Under Governor Scott Walker’s law, members must vote
each year to recertify their existing union as their
collective bargaining agent. Many unions in Wisconsin
are skipping the process.

Larger unions, such as AFSCME Council 24, have
determined that the resource cost outweighs the
benefits of recertification. The state teachers union
is leaving the matter up to individual locals.

Some are seeking recertification because some benefit
remains in preserving official bargaining
representative status.

Unions that maintain certification can bargain for wage
increases, although these are limited by the new law to
the Consumer Price Index. In maintaining their status,
unions hope for a seamless transition if collective
bargaining rights are restored legislatively.

Walker’s law gave teachers a wage cut of 5 to 15
percent this year due to increases in pension and
medical contributions. Support staff took cuts of up to
20 percent.

"A lot of people took cuts, but they’re seeing the
benefits of maintaining union organization," said La
Luzerne.

____________________________________________

PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to
people on the left that will help them to interpret the
world and to change it.

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